Deputy head takes temporary charge of anti-fraud office

Deputy head takes temporary charge of anti-fraud office

Franz-Herman Brüner dies at the age of 64; Nicholas Ilett to lead office temporarily.



Nicholas Ilett, the deputy head of the EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF, has taken temporary charge of the office following the death of its director-general, Franz-Hermann Brüner.

The 64-year-old German died of cancer at the weekend after a lengthy illness.

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A leading MEP on the European Parliament’s budgetary control committee this week expressed concern that OLAF might not be able to function effectively without its head. Ingeborg Grässle, a German centre-right MEP, said that Brüner’s death put OLAF in a “difficult situation”, because only the director-general had the legal authority to launch investigations and transmit files to national prosecutors.

Full operational powers

But the European Commission’s legal service has confirmed that Ilett, a Briton, will be able to stand in with full operational powers until a new director-general is appointed.

Algirdas Šemeta, the Lithuanian nominee for European commissioner, who has been assigned responsibility for combating fraud, said at his nomination hearing in the Parliament on 12 January that the Commission would quickly organise a competition to find a new director-general. He asked MEPs for help in drawing up a job description for the post.

Šemeta said at his hearing that, if appointed, he would press ahead with plans announced by Commission President José Manuel Barroso to make OLAF fully independent from the Commission. But MEPs on the budgetary control committee are opposed to Commission plans to reform OLAF, which has the task of fighting corruption and fraud involving EU funds. Grässle and other MEPs on the committee said that they were against this move, claiming that it would weaken OLAF’s ability to investigate fraud and corruption.


Grässle paid tribute to Brüner’s work in fighting fraud, saying that his efforts had made the EU a “model for other international institutions”.

A spokeswoman for Barroso said that Brüner, who had been head of OLAF since it was set up in 1999, had established OLAF “as a credible, efficient and respected actor in fighting fraud and corruption”. She added that Brüner was one of “the leading figures in his field, commanding respect in political circles and civil society”, she said.

Barroso and Siim Kallas, the European commissioner currently in charge of anti-fraud efforts, praised his “relentless commitment and energetic contribution to fighting fraud”.

Brüner was re-appointed for a second five-year term in October 2005 amid controversy about OLAF’s record, in particular its role in a raid by Belgian police on the office of Hans-Martin Tillack, a journalist for Stern, a German magazine, who was accused of bribing an EU official to obtain classified documents.

Brüner’s re-appointment, more than a year after his initial mandate had expired, was not supported across the Parliament. The budgetary control committee preferred a Swedish candidate.

Brüner moved to Brussels after heading the anti-fraud unit in the Office of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1998. He had been head of the Munich prosecutor’s office in 1996-98.

Simon Taylor